Clausen's first throwing score came on a critical 4th-and-Goal from the five-yard line in the third quarter. With Notre Dame down 23-0, the freshman completed two passes to Duval Kamara for 27 yards to give the Irish first down at the Boilermakers 10-yard line. Three plays later, Clausen ran a play action fake and his floating pass was snagged by John Carlson for the touchdown. On the next series, though, junior Evan Sharpley came on in relief after Clausen missed a wide open Golden Tate down the field.
"He had banged up that hip where he was going back and forth," head coach Charlie Weis said of Clausen. "You saw on that one throw to Golden down the sidelines where Golden was five yards past for a long touchdown and he said, ‘Coach, I'm throwing it as far as I could throw it.' I thought at that time his mechanics weren't allowing him to make all the throws. It didn't make a lot of sense to play an injured Jimmy when you had a healthy Evan."
Sharpley was solid in the second half. In his second series after taking over, the junior led Notre Dame on a 11 play, 81-yard drive. The key play was on 4th-and-5 from the their own 37 when Sharpley connected with Tate on a go route for a 43-yard diving completion and a first down. Four plays later, the junior quarterback found Duval Kamara for a touchdown to cut the Purdue lead to 26-12.
"It felt great," Sharpley said of the offense starting to put points up on the scoreboard. "We started to feed off of each other. The line was blocking well. The wide receivers were making plays."
On the next drive, Sharpley once again was able to get points for Notre Dame. The junior found Robby Parris on a crucial 4th-and-5 for 24 yards to keep the drive alive. Parris ended the day with a team-high seven catches for 93 yards. Sharpley later found Tate for a 25-yard scoring strike to cut the Purdue advantage to 26-19. The only mistake the junior signal caller made was an interception in the end zone late in the fourth quarter with the Boilermakers leading 33-19. On the day, Sharpley was 16-of-26 for 208 yards.
"I thought Evan was ready to go and made a bunch of good throws," Weis said. "There's a couple of things he would like back. But when you're running No. 2 in practice, you don't get nearly the reps as the No. 1. He gets some of the reps but not nearly the reps. Based off of that, you'd have to give him high marks."
Who starts next weekend at UCLA? The one big question will be the health of Clausen and the status of the hip injury. Weis said after the game Clausen was their quarterback but he would have to go back and look at the tape and also find out about the extent of the injury. Sharpley said he would leave the decision up to the coaches and would do whatever to help the team win.
"I prepare myself the same way each week," Sharpley said. "I'm going to prepare no matter what. That's how it was last year, too. It really wasn't a surprise to me once I was on the field because I was ready."
***Notre Dame came into the contest with the nation's worst ground attack. The Irish were averaging 25 rushing yards per game. Notre Dame did better than that against Purdue but not by much. The Irish gained 49 yards on 26 carries for an average of 1.9 yards per rush. Weis stressed all week about keeping Purdue's offense off the field with a consistent ground game. It didn't happen.
"We went into the game thinking we wanted to be in a 50-50 mixture," Weis said. "We ended up running it 10-15 times for an average of a yard and a half average. That's why we were floundering in the first half because we couldn't run the football with any efficiency."
There was a positive for the offensive line. Notre Dame allowed just two sacks on Saturday. Coming into the contest, the Irish were surrendering almost seven sacks a game. In 52 pass attempts, the Purdue defenders got to the Notre Dame quarterbacks just twice, an improvement for the unit.
"The protection was considerably better," Weis said. "The quarterbacks did a better job of seeing where to go with the ball. They weren't perfect. They hit us a couple of times with blitzes which could have been trouble but the quarterbacks got us out of trouble. For the most part, in the pass protection, I was pleased."
***The thought was that special teams couldn't get any worse than last week's performance against Michigan State. Unfortunately, the unit once again struggled in all areas. The coverage teams allowed the Boilermakers to obtain good field position. Brandon Walker's 35-yard field goal attempt in the second quarter was blocked. Walker and Nate Whitaker both missed extra points. Whitaker did connect on a PAT, only after a miss was bailed out by a Purdue offsides call.
"There were three separate issues," Weis said about the kicking woes. "On the blocked field goal and the first blocked extra point, it was protection. The other blocked extra point we dropped the snap. They were separate issues. That doesn't excuse the wide right issue."
***Tate's touchdown cut the Purdue lead to 26-19 with just under eight minutes remaining. The Boilermakers never gave Notre Dame the ball back with a chance to tie. Purdue responded with a scoring drive of their own, capped with Dustin Keller's 14-yard touchdown reception. But what if the Irish defense had held and Notre Dame had gone down the field and scored? The answer might surprise some.
"If we scored at the end of the game, we were going for two," Weis said. "We were going to try to win that football game. I felt too much stuff had been going on around here for us not to try to win. I told the guys with seven minutes left if when we cut it to seven, if we scored again we were going for two."
***Junior wide receiver David Grimes left the game with an ankle injury. Grimes caught three balls for 34 yards against the Boilermakers.
***Fifth-year senior Joe Brockington led the team in tackles with nine stops. Classmate Tom Zbikowski was second with seven tackles. Both John Ryan and Trevor Laws had sacks on the afternoon, raising the team total to six on the year.
***Junior safety Kyle McCarthy recorded his first interception of his career. Late in the second quarter, Purdue quarterback Curtis Painter tried to throw a deep pass over the middle near the goal line but McCarthy was there to stuff the scoring chance.
**Tate is the first freshman Notre Dame wide receiver since Derrick Mayes to surpass the 100-yard receiving mark.
***Notre Dame has been outscored 101-21 in the first half this season.